Beyond The Pale

Pat Robertson’s, Rhetoric, Social Justice

Several days ago—my first draft read “yesterday afternoon,” but life sometimes gets busy—while reading the New York Times online, I stumbled upon an article about Pat Robertson’s claim that he believed that the use of Marijuana should be legalized. His point, as an Evangelical, was not that the use of Marijuana was good, that it should be endorsed, or that he had any desire to use it, only that he thought it should be legalized. After reading the article, with which I wholly agreed, I posted a link to it on Facebook and promptly forgot about it.

As I’m currently deployed to Afghanistan, I live on an almost inverted time scale to most of the people who read my feed and make comments, so when I went to bed that night, there were no responses to the post, not that I expected any. As I mentioned, the link didn’t bear enough weight in my mind to keep me thinking about it, as the claims it made seemed fairly obvious. When I woke up the following morning and went to check my email before calling my wife, I was surprised to see that I had received twenty new emails in the intervening eight or ten hours. Several years ago, this would have been common, but of late I’ve been much less active on the internet, and I’ve received very few emails from people other than my wife. I couldn’t help but wonder what had brought in all the traffic. As soon as I opened up the first email, I realized that, without really intending to, I’d done what I have such a habit of doing and started a fight about whether Pot use should or should not be legal.

Most discussions of decriminalization for Marijuana tend to go in one of two directions, which are really the same direction. Either people want it to be legalized because its use isn’t damaging and alcohol, which causes much worse behavior than Marijuana ever could, is legal, or they want it to be illegal because it’s destructive, wrecks homes and lives, makes you lazy, and contributes to other kinds of criminality. Both of these pictures are clearly oversimplifications of what their backers really believe, and I’m not trying to build up a couple of straw man arguments to knock down, but keeping these rough sketches in mind is useful.

The argument that happened on my Facebook page while I was sleeping had basically taken the same course that most arguments about Pot tend to take, and while I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed because the reason that I so heartily agree with what Pat Robertson was saying is that he didn’t make the arguments that we usually hear. Instead, Robertson approached the issue from the perspective of social justice.

Robertson basically argued that we incarcerate people for a crime with only one real victim, themselves. Sure, because of the current state of affairs, there is a whole black market on the product, and any black market produces crime, but that black market is not a natural outgrowth of the availability of the product, but of it’s prohibition. Just as a huge black market grew out of the prohibition of alcohol in the United States and was wiped out by it’s later re-legalization, so the crime producing prohibition of Pot produces much crime that would be wiped out were the product legalized, regulated, and taxed.

That’s not to say that the use of Pot should be condoned, any more than the use of alcohol should be condoned. There is plenty of room for disagreement on this. My denomination states in it’s position papers that it considers alcohol to be a tool of Satan, used for destroying lives and causing addiction. My parents completely agree with this statement, and I can’t fault them for the position. I believe that high fructose corn syrup is a tool of Satan, used for destroying lives and causing addiction. My parents drink a lot of Dr. Pepper and use fake Syrup on their pancakes. I try not to judge them for this. I drink a fair amount of Guinness and the occasional tumbler of Ol’ Number 7. I hope that they do me the same courtesy. I don’t argue that high fructose corn syrup should be illegal. I’m never heard my parents argue that alcohol should be.

Just as I don’t advocate the consumption of fake sugar, and my parents don’t condone the consumption of alcohol, Pat Robertson doesn’t condone the consumption of THC. His argument, and it’s a good one, is that it is unjust to throw someone in prison, damage their families, reduce their lifetime earning potential, and force them into association with real criminals for doing something unhealthy.

Our prisons are over crowded, and they are crowded with people who have no business being there in the first place. If we believe that Pot use is wrong and dangerous, destructive and addictive, then we need to do something about it, but incarcerating them isn’t the thing that needs done. There are other ways to go about this. When a person gets addicted to alcohol, we try to enroll them in AA. When they eat too much Mc. Donald’s, we send them to Jenny Craig.

Christians are mandated to care for the poor, not to oppress them. To deprive a community of it’s young men, by far the largest portion of drug related incarcerations, fits that bill. Utilitarians want to reduce human suffering. Prohibition and the resulting crime and imprisonment increase the quotient of human suffering beyond the gains of reduced consumption. Liberals want the oppressed to be humanized, removed from the margins, empowered. Conservatives claim to want to preserve liberty and reduce government spending. Libertarians want the government to have less power. And so on. There are incentives for every party to advocate this change, and yet very few voices do—not as a result of the real situation, but as a result of the blinding rhetoric we have chosen to use to talk about it.


March 23, 2012 - Posted by | Censorship, Christianity, Church


  1. I definitely see your point and understand your perspective. This gives me a lot to think about. I have never been an advocate for the legalization of marijuana, and I’m not sure that this has changed my mind, but as I said, it gives me a lot to think about. My biggest question, though, is if marijuana is legalized, how soon will other, more harmful substances be legalized? Harsher drugs are often linked to violent crimes. Yes, alcohol is as well, but not everyone drinks to get drunk. When you use and abuse other substances, it results in a high and leaves the user inebriated. I am definitely open to hearing another perspective. If anyone chooses to respond, please don’t attack me; I’m not attacking the “opposing” view, I am genuinely curious and seeking information.

    Comment by chelsealaina | March 23, 2012 | Reply

    • I thought about including some notes on the idea of gateway drugs, but I try to keep blog posts to right at one page single spaced, and I was already above that with this post. Basically, there are a couple of different stances I’ve seen taken, and each of them is ideologically biased. I’ve found here one article that might shed some light on the issue, but keep in mind that it appears to have been written by someone who very much wants prohibition reform to take place. You could find spin the other direction very easily, so don’t take this article at it’s word, but rather think about the issues it raises for yourself.

      There are two points I’d like to make, however:

      1) The question of how soon other drugs would be legalized is an example of what’s called a “slippery slope” fallacy. That kind of question is specifically designed to raise crippling fear in the minds of its hearers/thinkers. It’s the same kind of question that leaves parents thinking, “if I let my daughter hold hands with her boyfriend, how soon will she be pregnant?” If you trained her right, not until she’s married. Andrea and I held hands and, egad!, even kissed before we got married. We still remained sexually pure. Every step you take COULD be a plunge into the abyss, but that possibility isn’t a good way to make your decisions.

      2) Even if marijuana IS a gateway drug, legalization and regulation might be a good way to reduce the way that it facilitates the access of other drugs. Right now, you have to go to a drug dealer to get pot–unless you live in California. If you could purchase it at the local liquor store and, therefore, never sought out a drug dealer with access to more dangerous substances, the temptation, and even the opportunity, to use those harder drugs would be reduced considerably.

      One last note, just to give you something to think on. Sorry the link is from the same site as the previous one, but I found them through different searches, and it seems that site is really interested in the issue. If I had more consistent internet connection, I would try to dig a little deeper into the issue for you, but right now, just googling topics I’m already familiar with and finding articles that can get you thinking is about the best I can do:–_what_happened_next

      Comment by DavidJGross | March 23, 2012 | Reply

      • You don’t have to go to a dealer in CO, either. I mean, you still can, or you can just get a doctor’s recommendation, a medical marijuana card, and go to a dispensary.

        Comment by alltheseblessedthings | March 23, 2012

      • Maybe I should have said, “any state where medical marijuana has been legalized.”

        Comment by DavidJGross | March 23, 2012

  2. Hi David,

    I didn’t have time to read the links you gave to Chelsea…but just a thought….if weed was legalized and regulated by state or federal gov. I’m not sure it would totally eliminate the “gateway” factor. Issue being THC and it’s potency…not sure that’s the right term. Regulation would most likely result in approved limits IE: 80 “proof” etc. for alcohol. It seems to me the black market would continue to thrive with the hook being that the dealers have the “really good s_ _ _!” Factor in human nature…and you have to ask if legalizing would be anything other than just another step in the temptation process? “I like copping a high, I wonder what it would be like to smoke pot with even higher levels…you know, the levels beyond the regulation…hmm where can I find some of that?” Not trying to do the slippery slope thing but it seems like this would be a reality…still a “gateway”… I don’t know…. Unregulated alcohol still exists as moonshine or white lightening because there is a market for it. I guess it’s the market forces like that which add to the murkiness for me. Another thing…from the dealers end…would they have a new inducement to “lace” their unregulated product with synthetic addictive additives…? As it is now this practice doesn’t have to be utilized, in a regulated market it might become more needful.


    love to all,

    Comment by Scot Miller | March 23, 2012 | Reply

    • Scot,

      Good to hear you chime in. I honestly can’t speak to that topic too much because I’m not really much of an activist either way, I just tried to answer a couple of the more common questions that I’ve heard and address the rampant over-incarceration that takes place in the US. As for the continued presence of gateway features in Marijuana, I suppose that argument is at least logical as a possibility. I don’t know what the actual rates are.

      Thanks for giving me something more to think on.

      Comment by DavidJGross | March 23, 2012 | Reply

    • Might has well make it a family matter here. Hi’ya fellas!

      I speak with authority on this issue. Not because I have ever smoked the “devils lettuce” but because as I sit here drinking my morning coffee, three of my peers are smoking said lettuce on my couch. Seriously. I too am not an advocate for either side. I have many, many friends here in LA who have a “green card.” Getting one is a joke.

      Stoner-“Hey doc I’ve got headaches”
      Dr.- “Why?”
      Stoner- “Because I haven’t smoked in two days”
      Dr. “Sign here…”

      It’s that easy.

      I brought up this subject with my roommate (while he was stoned) a few days ago and I got an interesting response. The enthusiast of ganja does not want pot legalized and claims many partakers of the lettuce don’t either. Their fear?

      “Marlboro Green 100’s”

      He claims there is a rationalized fear that legalizing and regulating it will in fact kill the quality, and i would submit “taboo factor”.

      We can’t overlook the “taboo” factor. Which I think plays in to the slipperiness of the slope in question. Theres a part of everyone that only wants to do the things they are told they should not do. That part of human nature is within us. Some of us are fortunate enough to have been raised in a way that acknowledges this nature and helps put it into perspective. The vast majority of people are not. Our society continues to produce thrill seekers. There is always something more, a more intense this or that, more money, more sex, more power and when you get it it gives you the “freedom” we all desire. Unfortunately as Rob Bell so wisely put it ” But freedom isn’t having whatever you want. Freedom is going without the thing you want and being fine with it”

      I’ll end with this. And I realize it sounds like a ‘slippery slope” scenario. One of my roommates quit drinking and smoking pot for a month… he lasted 10 days on the alcohol. Tuesday night at midnight he hit 30 days on pot and celebrated appropriately. That didn’t bother me, what bothered me was waking up last week and coming out to my kitchen to make my coffee and seeing a dollar bill rolled up on the table next to a clear plastic bag covered in a white residue. He was seeking that thrill. He found it (and looked like death the whole next day) It took him a few days to admit to me he had done it and I asked him why he tried to hide it from me. He said “I don’t know”, which of course means “Because i thought you would judge me because you don’t even smoke pot and read that bible thing”..

      My question is as a Christian, is our job to prevent people from sinning because of our fear of the evils the bible warns of? Or is our job to live the alternative to the thrill seeking lifestyle and trust that living it is a more effective advertisement and representation than a faceless legislation..

      I’ve strayed from pot legalization, maybe I have ADHD….maybe I should get a green card.

      (Plus we all know this is a small part of a bigger issue. Don’t make me trace this all the way back to broken homes)

      (Which can be traced to a broken world)

      (Love your insight on the sugar issue David. I’ve recently been adopting that argument as well)

      Comment by Seth G Miller | March 23, 2012 | Reply

      • Then again what about the people who only will smoke pot? Like the people who will only have 2 beers. Or only eat half the pizza. Should the devices of the more indulgent ruin it for the more prudent?

        God, this is never ending…

        Comment by Seth G Miller | March 23, 2012

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